This Week in Petroleum History, May 14 – 20
May 14, 1953 – Golden Driller welcomes Visitors to Tulsa Oil Expo
The “Golden Driller” first appeared at the International Petroleum Exposition in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sponsored by the Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth, Texas, the giant was temporarily erected again for the 1959 petroleum expo.
The big roughneck attracted so much attention that the company refurbished and donated it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Trust Authority. The giant was rebuilt in 1966.
Today, fully refurbished in the late 1970s, the Golden Driller – now a 76-foot tall, 43,500 pound leading tourist attraction – is one of the largest freestanding statues in the world, according to city officials. Learn more in Golden Driller of Tulsa.
May 14, 2004 – Petroleum Museum Opens in Oil City, Louisiana
Louisiana’s first publicly funded museum dedicated to the petroleum industry opened 20 miles north of Shreveport. The Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum, originally the Caddo-Pine Island Oil and Historical Museum, includes the historic depot of the Kansas City Southern Railroad.
The museum preserves the Caddo Parish discoveries, which began in 1905, and the economic prosperity brought by the North Louisiana petroleum boom. Exhibits reveal the technologies behind a 1911 well – the Ferry No. 1 – one of the nation’s earliest “offshore” oil wells completed on nearby Caddo Lake, where production continues today. Learn more about the Louisiana Oil City Museum.
May 15, 1911 – Supreme Court orders Standard Oil Breakup
After reviewing 12,000 pages of court documents, Chief Justice Edward White issued the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion that mandated dissolution of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.
The historic ruling, which broke Standard Oil into 34 separate companies, upheld an earlier Circuit Court decision that the John D. Rockefeller company’s practices violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. Standard Oil was given six months to divest its subsidiaries. Five years earlier, President Theodore Roosevelt’s Justice Department had launched 44 anti-trust suits against railroad, beef, tobacco, and other trusts.
May 16, 1961 – Gas Museum opens
In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opened in 1961 above a giant natural gas producing area that extended 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.
The small museum in Hugoton today educates visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America – the Hugoton field. A natural gas well drilled in 1945 is still producing at the museum. Learn more in Natural Gas Museum.
May 17, 1882 – Mystery Well shocks Pennsylvania Oil Prices
A small Pennsylvania township discovered an oilfield in 1882. When word spread about the discovery well’s true daily production, U.S. oil prices collapsed (the industry was less than 25 years old). The “Mystery Well” flowed at 1,000 barrels of oil a day. Once a closely guarded secret, news of the Jamestown Oil Company’s well sent shock waves through early oil trading markets. Certificates for more than 4.5 million barrels of oil were sold in one day at Pennsylvania’s three oil exchanges.
“The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explains local historian Walt Atwood. The town annually celebrates its Cherry Grove Mystery Well.
May 17, 1901 – Future Gulf Oil Company founded in Texas
J.M. Guffey organized Guffey Petroleum Company to buy the “Lucas Gusher” well drilled the previous January at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas.
Guffey purchased about half of the well’s high-volume oil production (see Spindletop launches Modern Petroleum Industry). The Mellon family of Pittsburgh owned the remainder.
Guffey created Gulf Refining Company to refine and market the oil produced by Guffey Petroleum. Andrew Mellon bought out Guffey in 1907 and reorganized the ventures as Gulf Oil Company.
May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield brings Boom to Northwestern Ohio
The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio began. Benjamin Faurot – drilling for natural gas – found oil instead. His discovery revealed the Lima oilfield.
“Benjamin Faurot struck oil after drilling into the Trenton Rock Limestone formation a depth of 1,252 feet,” notes the Allen County Museum & Historical Society. He organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company.
By 1886, the Lima field was the nation’s leading producer of oil. By the following year it was the largest in the world. Among those attracted to Lima was the future four-time mayor of Toledo. Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones helped found the Ohio Oil Company (Marathon). Learn more in “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio.
May 19, 1942 – George E. Failing patents Portable Drilling Rig
A pioneer in oilfield technologies, George Failing of Enid, Oklahoma, received a patent for his design of a drilling rig on a truck bed. “I designate the rear portion of a drilling rig such as used in drilling shallow wells, the taking of cores, drilling of shot-holes, and performing similar oil field operations,” Failing noted in his patent for a design he first built in 1931.
“In 1931 he mounted an existing rig on a 1927 Ford farm truck, adding a power take-off assembly to transfer power from the truck engine to the drill,” notes Kathy Dickson of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Failing’s portable rig could drill ten slanted, 50-foot holes in a single day, while a traditional steam-powered rotary rig took about a week to set up and drill to a similar depth. He demonstrated his portable drilling technology at a 1933 well disaster in Conroe, Texas, working with H. John Eastman, today considered the father of directional drilling (see Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”)
Failing’s efficient rig also has helped millions of people in developing countries by drilling water wells. Today the Enid-based GEFCO (George E. Failing Company) still manufactures portable drilling rigs. The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid displays a Failing rig.
May 20, 1930 – Geophysicists found Professional Society
The Society of Economic Geophysicists adopted a constitution and bylaws in Houston. In 1937, the society adopted the name by which it is known today, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, which fosters “the ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources.”
SEG’s journal Geophysics appeared in 1936 with articles about the petroleum industry’s three major prospecting methods then – seismic, gravity, and magnetic. The journal warned young geophysicists about employing “black magic” or “doodle-bug” methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals or geological formations.
The Doodlebugger, a 10-foot bronze statue by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia, was unveiled in SEG’s Tulsa headquarters in 2002. O’Melia also sculpted the Oil Patch Warrior, a World War II memorial dedicated in 1991 in the United Kingdom (see Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest). SEG today has 20,000 members in 128 countries.
Recommended Reading: Tulsa Oil Capital of the World, Images of America (2004); Louisiana’s Oil Heritage, Images of America (2012); Standard Oil Company: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Famous Monopoly (2016); Ohio Oil and Gas, Images of America (2008); Geophysicist Career Guide (2018).
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